What Neuroscience Tells Us About How Media Race Reporting Is Costing Lives
By Dr. Dale Taylor
ERASE IMPLICIT BIAS: STOP IMPLANTED BIAS
What Neuroscience Tells Us About How Media Race Reporting Is Costing Lives
News reports continue to carry stories of events in the ongoing saga of unnecessary brutality against black citizens perpetrated by police officers, the courts and others. Suggested remedies continue to focus primarily on better racial sensitivity training for police and increased communication between residents of color and the police who patrol their communities. Some also want to implore blacks who are stopped by police to show more respect and cooperation with arresting officers and other authorities. While these obvious suggestions are well meaning, there is one very formidable problem that will continue to cause police officers and juries to use more harsh measures against black suspects.
The reflexive use of deadly force by police against black men and some women does not arise from an isolated decision made on the spot by an impartial person confronting a dangerous criminal who presents a deadly threat. That fear and distaste for black men and their actions, labeled officially as “implicit bias,” was implanted in the mind of the police officer long before he or she first put on a uniform. A lifetime of having one’s brain constantly impacted with multiple media accounts of blacks accused of committing murders, robberies, rapes and other violence has built such a fearful image in that person’s brain that it cannot be undone without intensive deprogramming. Neill Franklin, a retired major who served for 34 years in the Maryland State Police and Baltimore Police Department, said the need for this kind of training is something he witnessed in his everyday work. “[W]e all have this subconscious bias. Even me, as a black police officer, I felt the same,” Franklin said. “When I would be in certain parts of the city and see young black males, it would run through my mind, ‘What are they up to? Are they dealing?’ That’s because of what we’ve been bombarded with for so many years from so many different directions, including the media.” This bombardment creates Implanted Bias that is renewed and reinforced each time news reporters attach race to a tragic event whenever the suspect, perpetrator and, in selected cases, the victim is described as “black,” making it appear that the person’s problem somehow is due to his skin color, and delivering an implied warning that all others with that same skin color are prone to similar behavior. Note, for example, the case of New York Dr. Henry Bello who shot Dr. Tracy Tam before committing suicide. An online report began with the words, “Black MD . . .” although there was no indication that racial identity or skin color played any role in the event.
Lifelong media conditioning as described herein eventually contributes to racially motivated hate crimes such as the murder of Richard Collins, a black ROTC officer who was visiting the University of Maryland when he was stabbed to death by a white male whom he had never met.
When white Texas package bomber Mark Conditt was identified, CNN’s 3/21/18 online video report showed pictures of two black victims and stated that the two victims of the fourth bomb who were not shown were “white”—which is irrelevant as there was no indication that skin color played any part in these crimes. However, it signals the viewer to notice and associate the series of bombings with the race of those who were pictured, all without stating or showing Conditt’s race. When Colorado officer Curtis Arganbright stopped his police car and raped his handcuffed passenger, media accounts omitted any mention that he is white. During years of publicity about the Watergate burglars, about mass murderer Charles Manson and more recently beauty queen murderers Ryan Duke and Bo Dukes, Florida serial killer Bobby Joe Long and UNCC shooter Trystan Terrell, it has never been reported that any of them is a “white male.” Similarly, the media has not identified fraudulent and indicted technology billionaire Elizabeth Holmes as a white female. When 21-year old Zephen Xavor called police himself after murdering five people in a bank, media outlets omitted any mention of him being a “white-American male.” There also was no mention of skin color when white Dr. Stephen Henson received a life sentence for a death resulting from his over prescribing of opioid drugs outside of his medical practice, nor when border agent Steven Holmes was arrested for sexually assaulting three women. In the case of Walmart double murderer Scott Ostrem, the Yahoo online report did state “Ostrem, who is white . . .” which, by naming and blaming the individual, avoided demonizing the entire ‘white male’ population without naming any one person. By contrast, a CNN story about an arrest in a shootout at a Trader Joe’s specified “African-American male” as the race to blame for the shootings even before the suspect’s name was available. Blaming an African-American male without naming any individual immediately and repeatedly makes every person who fits that category a suspect in the mind of every member of the listening public. By conditioning the public to think that way about any black male they see, people develop biases while gaining no awareness of the reality that they may be looking at a current or future national political leader, screen actor, college graduate, law enforcer, astronaut, religious icon, legendary musician, news anchor, sports legend, author, professor, military hero, entrepreneur, medical expert, inventor, scientist or technology innovator.
When the perpetrator is white—which is almost never mentioned—reporters take every opportunity to attach a “black” color to the crime by mentioning that the suspect was “wearing black” or was in a “black vehicle.” Note the online report of a white murder suspect arrested in Ohio in June 2017 for five slayings. The story included no racial association with the crimes, but was careful to include mention of “a black van Brinkman drives.” Reports of the shooter in the Texas church massacre of 26 people all were careful to mention in headlines or in the first sentences that Kelley was wearing “all black.” In reporting on the Sante Fe, TX high school shooter, extra emphasis was placed by the media on Facebook pictures of his “black jacket” bearing Nazi and similar emblems and his “black” t-shirt bearing the words “born to kill.” More recently, Yahoo news reported that the judge in the Scott Ostrem case said that this killer had a “black heart.” Another example comes from reports of the South Carolina school shooter who was described by at least one media news outlet as having “blonde hair and wearing a black hat and a black shirt.” Notice in these examples that reporters never introduce the word “white” to the reader’s brain in association with anything about these killers whereas the word “black” is repeatedly hammered home in connection with these violent acts. Even the movie that chronicled the murderous exploits of mobster “Whitey” Bulgar was entitled “Black Mass.”
A very revealing and instructive example of the demonizing and potentially lethal effects of implanted racial bias occurred in early August of 2016 when a listener from North Carolina called C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” program identifying himself as a “prejudiced white man” who wanted to ask the show’s black female guest what he could do to change. He said he “feared” black people and his reasons were rooted entirely in what he had “learned” from the media, especially newspapers. He stated his belief that “young black males” are involved in crime because they “have to get money for drugs” since they “live in an environment with a lot of drugs.” He expressed his resulting media implanted fear that makes him avoid blacks, and which makes him “come off as being prejudiced.” Note that he expressed no fear of white males despite a lifetime of media reports about whites involved in bombings, robberies, rapes, assassinations, drug deals, kidnappings, serial killings, home invasions and mass murder. Note also that his negative implanted bias fails to be balanced by frequent media coverage of positive black male role models such as actors James Earl Jones and Ben Vereen, brain surgeon Dr. Ben Carson, astronauts Ronald McNair and Leland Melvin, Bishop T.D. Jakes, tennis great Arthur Ashe, actors Denzel Washington and Danny Glover, baseball Hall of Famers Frank Thomas and Hank Aaron, television personalities Al Roker and Wayne Brady, musicians Wynton Marsalis and John Legend, athlete and DWTS winner Emmitt Smith, national Teacher of the Year Rodney Robinson, businessman and Shark Group founder Daymond John, and U.S. Secretary of State and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair General Colin Powell because reporters never speak about race in connection with their accomplishments.
While the realization of the C-span caller’s media driven prejudice allows his bias to be addressed, the millions of others who are not aware of the media origins of their own bigotry continue to react in terms of media images of people with whom they have had little or no interaction. For example, business manager Matthew Fezzey of Poke Poke restaurant in Chicago admitted to throwing a chair at a black customer because he held preconceived notions about the man’s race. A white home owner, Jeffrey Ziegler was convicted of assault with attempt to murder and possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony when he shot at black 14 y.o. Brennan Walker who, in Ziegler’s mind, was trying to break in to rob him when, after missing his school bus, the teen rang the doorbell and asked for directions to his high school before running away when he saw the shotgun. In the case of police officers, these reactions also are often deadly as they impulsively react to the media implanted need to protect themselves and others from a perpetually perceived threat. This has contributed to black males becoming 34% of those killed by police officers while comprising only 6% of the U.S. population (NBC-TV 6/28/17).
Although the C-Span caller specified that his media driven prejudice is against “young black males,” the deadly effects of media induced racial bias extend also to the violent treatment of black females by police. High profile examples include Dajerria Becton, the black 16 year-old who was thrown to the ground by a policeman as she was complying with his order to leave a pool party, Dyma Loving who called the police to report a man threatening her and a friend with a shotgun but was thrown to the ground and violently arrested by the arriving officer, Honestie Hodges, an 11 year-old girl who was handcuffed and held at gunpoint by police in the absence of a crime scene or criminal act, Wakiesha Wilson who died in a Los Angeles jail cell, and Sandra Bland who had just signed a contract to begin teaching as a college professor but who also died at the police station after she was seen on police dash cam and on her own cell phone video being attacked in her car and threatened with a taser for smoking a cigarette while the policeman wrote her a ticket for not signaling a lane change.
In a call to a Madison, WI radio station to inquire as to why the morning news included a robbery suspect’s black skin color, the station representative answered that they always report the race of a suspect if the person is black. When asked whether the police had asked them to broadcast a description as a way of getting the public to help identify the perpetrator, the response was “no.” When asked why they don’t attach race to a criminal or violent act when the perpetrator is white, the response was “it is assumed that the person is white if the race is not reported,” implying that each listener’s brain will automatically think to consciously fill in and store a “white” racial association—which they did not actually hear—as part of the information that they did hear in the report. This simply is not how the human brain works! The listener’s brain is much more likely, when hearing about a criminal act, to listen for, fill in and store the “black” racial association even when it is not stated, just as mention of a “beautiful clear summer sky” will cause the listener’s brain to automatically fill in and store the color “blue” even though this fact is not stated and the statement may have referred to a night sky, or the mention of rolling out the carpet for a celebrity automatically causes a person’s brain to fill in the color “red” for the carpet because that is the only color ever actually heard in reports of such events.
To cite an example, on a March, 2016 morning, there was a news broadcast in western Wisconsin that clearly demonstrated how the media is used to demonize black Americans in the minds of the public. On FM-94.1, a local radio station, there was a news spot that included two stories which may seem unrelated although each was worded so as to teach and perpetuate long held negative racial stereotypes in the minds of the listening public.
First there was a story about a “31-year-old black male” who was reported to have been “found dead” in the yard of a house in a rural area. It was reported also that an autopsy would be conducted “to determine if he died of a gunshot wound” although there was no report of a gun at the scene, the sound of a gun, or of the victim even having a gunshot wound. The wording of the report also implies that the only purpose of the autopsy would be to determine whether he did or did not die of a gunshot wound rather than to determine how he did die. Of course, most members of the public will not think to remind themselves that autopsies are not done to rule in or out just one cause of death while ignoring all other possibilities. The report therefore uses the opportunity to relate the image of “black male” with “gunshot” violence regardless of whether there was a gunshot and without establishing skin color as a relevant factor in the story.
The immediately following story in the same news broadcast was about a person who was seen in a rest room at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville with an assault rifle, resulting in evacuation of the campus that Monday. Although the person was never found or identified, it was not reported that the person seen was a “white man” although this fact was included in an online print report from the scene. Therefore the brains of listeners in the I-94 broadcast area did not hear this gunman’s race associated with the very deadly AK-47 assault rifle on a college campus.
The result of this approximately 90-second news spot is that the public heard about two events that referenced gun violence and the only racial association that they heard was “black male.” This association has now become further implanted in the brains of young and old alike in the west central Wisconsin listening area, most of whom get from the media their only impressions of black men. Listeners will not have heard of white men or women involved in gun violence of any kind. Such repeated exposures during formative as well as later years are major contributors to the reasons why: a) whites in business and industry are often reluctant to hire qualified black applicants, b) they feel threatened and may actually call the police when a black customer enters their place of business, c) they are reluctant to sell, rent, buy or live in a house near a black person, d) they will, as educators, often reject applications from black students seeking to further their education, e) as financial executives, they often are quick to refuse a housing or business loan to a black entrepreneur, and f) they are, as law enforcement agents, much quicker to feel threatened and use deadly force against black men whom they encounter.
The follow-up story to the first example above was broadcast on August 30, 2016, and contained an update of details of the case with obvious omissions and further criminalizing of the victim. That day’s television coverage showed a white male, Timmy Johnson, who was being arraigned for harboring the killers and his name was given. Reports said that two “other” men had been charged with the killing and would be in court later—no pictures were shown and their names and racial identities were withheld. Online reports of the case showed pictures and names of the other two white males, Matt Labrec and Jesse Lloyd, who were charged with the actual murder. All sources reported that one was already in jail on “unrelated charges.” The name of the victim, Kenneth Patterson, was used without repeating his race although for anyone who might remember the earlier description, the stereotype was reinforced by a report that the victim had “shown up to buy drugs” even though no mention was made of how his intention was determined after he was deceased. The obvious answer, which also was not reported on television, was that the two white males that he went to see were known drug dealers who also showed themselves to be murderers when he arrived. Note also that the report did not mention what murder weapon was used or whether the autopsy did or did not find that a gunshot wound was the cause of death.
Here again, the news report was carefully worded so that the brain of any member of the listening public did not hear—and therefore did not retain—any reference to a “white male” involved in harboring fugitives, serving jail time, selling drugs, committing murder or gun violence. Therefore, a person such as the C-span caller or anyone who is or later will become a police officer will not approach a white male subject with the same life-threatening internalized bias with which he or she will approach a black male after a lifetime of actually hearing thousands of examples of race attached to anything negative that a black person might do. For example, 6′ 4″ white Alabama fugitive Grady Wayne Wilkes was peacefully captured alive in May 2019 after a massive “blue alert” manhunt even though he had shot three police officers killing one of them. Conversely, there are numerous records of unarmed black men who were running, walking or standing on a street such as Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Jeremy Lake, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald and Freddie Gray, playing with a toy such as Tamir Rice, talking on a cell phone such as John Crawford and Stephon Clark, sitting in a car such as Philando Castile, riding in the back seat of a car such as Jordan Edwards, standing unarmed in the entrance to his apartment building such as Amadou Diallo, calling a tow service for a stalled SUV such as Corey Jones, running unarmed from the back seat of a car during a traffic stop such as Antwon Rose, turning one’s back after being stopped for an inoperative brake light such as Walter Scott, standing unarmed inside his own apartment such as Botham Jean, or playing loud music in his garage such as Gregory Hill, Jr. and are shot dead by police in the absence of a crime scene.
Negative media stereotyping of black Americans is so pervasive and continuous that it becomes normalized in the minds of listeners and the message becomes subliminal while driving attitudes and actions. It is not surprising that the Florida policeman who shot the black autism therapist who was on the ground with his hands in the air said when asked why he fired, “I don’t know.” When viewed in this context, it also is not surprising that a Minnesota policeman shot and killed a law abiding black motorist when the driver started to comply with the officer’s order to “Show me your driver’s license.” Just four days later, white Georgia police Lt. Gregg Abbott was recorded on video telling a fear-ridden female detainee “But, you’re not black. Remember, we only shoot black people. We only kill black people, right?” More recently, white former Tulsa police officer Shannon Kepler was convicted of murdering a black man who was walking on the street with the officer’s daughter. A separate story from Tulsa, Oklahoma, contained a quote from police chief Chuck Jordan in which he called video footage of unarmed Terence Crutcher’s shooting “disturbing” and “very difficult to watch.” The black 40-year-old father of four and community college student is seen with his hands up in full compliance with multiple police officers when he is shot dead by officer Betty Shelby who was passing by having been dispatched to a different disturbance. More recently, 26 year-old black security guard Jemel Roberson was shot dead by police after subduing and detaining a shooter at a bar. Also, Emantic Bradford Jr. was shot dead by police while standing in front of a shoe store after a shooting altercation on a different level of an Alabama mall although subsequent investigation determined he was not involved in the disturbance. Clearly a lifetime of being trained by the media to think of black males as criminals has caused these police officers to react in terms of what is already deeply embedded in their brains rather than to assess and recognize the total absence of any threat.
In addition to statements specifying skin color, major news outlets are very aware of the impact that pictures have on consumers’ impressions of race and on their reactions in assigning racial blame. As exemplified in the Conditt example above, they often will show black victims of violence without showing white perpetrators. They also will not show a picture of a white perpetrator under a negative headline and instead will print the story around a picture of a black person from a different news story. This was the case during the 2016 Olympics when the New York Times printed a headline across the top of a page that read “Accused of Fabricating Robbery: Swimmers Fuel Tensions in Brazil” but with no picture of white American swimmer Ryan Lochte who was at the center of the controversy. Instead, a large picture of Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt adorned the page just under the headline. Other stories of crimes committed by white perpetrators are reported with pictures of police cars and yellow tape, but reporters omit pictures of the suspect as in the reports by Yahoo and HLN of killings by white males Jacob Schmoyer and Anthony Aiello. Similarly, stories of white-on-white tragedies where race was not an issue regularly are used by the media to fuel racial conflict by including “related” accounts of similar incidents that did reflect racial differences between participants. This occurred in the recent account of the acquittal of police officer Philip Brailsford for the shooting in Arizona of unarmed Daniel Shaver, both of whom were white. Although their race was not stated, the reporter was careful to add that the decision came the same day as the sentencing in South Carolina of white police officer Michael Slager for the 2015 shooting of unarmed black motorist Walter Scott.
One could argue that showing a picture of a suspect reveals that person’s race and therefore can have an effect equally as strong as when it is stated by a reporter. For example, February 2018 online Associated Press stories about scheduled death row executions of Doyle Lee Hamm, Eric Scott Branch and Thomas Whitaker carried pictures but no verbal reference to the race or skin color of these killers, all of whom were white males. However, there are clearly identifiable reasons why a racial association observed in a picture does not remain in a viewer’s memory and influence behavior nearly to the same degree. First, note that the auditory tract is the initial and primary source of sensory input that the brain relies on during fetal development. It is fully functional and begins to receive and store information at five months following conception, giving it a four month head start on all other sources of sensory information. During that time, brain activity stimulated by auditory processing helps prepare the brain to utilize the other sensory pathways. Second, a viewer’s awareness of race as a feature of a person in a picture depends upon whether he or she consciously thinks about noticing the race of the person pictured whereas an auditory presentation forces every listener’s brain to notice and store a racial association by stating “black male” or “white female.” Third, a picture allows the viewer to blame the individual person and does not carry the same implication of fault associated with skin color as when race is specifically mentioned by a reporter. Fourth, viewers are aware that the amount of color or shading in a picture may or may not allow skin color to be an accurate indicator of race. Other features may or may not coincide with a viewer’s expectations of racial characteristics. Finally, a viewer’s determination of the importance of race in a picture may be tempered by the person’s own experiences with people of that race. As such it may not have the same impact on future behavior as when that color or race is clearly stated and directly associated with a tragic event when broadcast to everyone by a major news source that is seen as a gatekeeper of information for society and history.
The result of multiple years of having one’s brain constantly impacted with media reports of the color “black” associated with people involved in violent or criminal situations is that listeners become conditioned to fear, blame, reject, avoid, and automatically seek to protect themselves from people who match the negative media stereotype regardless of whether they have ever had any personal contact with black people. White criminals often are not pictured or their race is not shown in print or spoken aloud by reporters which is why the brains of listeners such as the C-span caller do not develop fear of white males whose skin color matches those of white serial killers Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, Michael Cummins, Arthur Ream, Danny Rolling, Todd Kohlhepp, David and Donna Courtney, George Brinkman, Danny Bible, Jason Dalton, Aileen Wuornos, Cary Stayner, Joel Rifkin, Bruce McArthur, Robert Brown, Charles Manson and white former police officers Drew Peterson, Gerard Schaefer, Golden State killer Joseph Deangelo and Nathaniel Hendren, white mass murderers Timothy McVeigh, Stephen Paddock, Charles Whitman, Nikolas Cruz, Richard Speck, Zephen Xavor, Jared Loughner, Robert Bowers, Dylann Roof, Travis Reinking, Devin Kelley, Jarrod Warren Ramos, Walter Stopler, Dimitrios Pagourtzis, Ian Long, John Earnest, Trystan Terrell, Spencer Hight and David Katz, white mass murder bomb conspirators Curtis Allen, Gavin Wright and Patrick Stein, white assassins John Hinkley, Jack Ruby, Lee H. Oswald, James Earl Ray and John W. Boothe, unabomber Ted Kaczynski, ‘btk’ killer Dennis Rader, white serial bombers Cesar Sayoc, Eric Rudolph and Mark Conditt, white Craig’s List killers Philip Markoff and Richard Beasley, the ‘green river killer’ Gary Ridgway, ‘playmate murderer’ Paul Snider, roommate killer Troy Clark, Texas girlfriend murderer Daniel Acker, Zodiac killer Eddie Seda, hillside stranglers Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Bono, murderer pedophile Daniel Acker, Elizabeth Smart kidnapper Brian Mitchell, white serial rapists Greg Carlson and Roy Waller, kidnapper and rapist Justin Dalcollo, school resource officer and rapist Mark Scheetz, car bomb killer Jacob Schmoyer, rapist and deputy sheriff Mike Mastel, white campground killer Anthony Rauda, confessed murderer Raymond Rowe, ‘Dating Game’ serial killer Rodney Alcala, road rage killer Jeremy Webster, double murderers Kirby Wallace and Edmund Zagorski, white male murderer kidnappers Terry Miles and Jake Patterson, ‘angel of death’ nurse Charles Cullen, co-ed killer Ed Kemper, serial child killer Genene Jones, white school shooter Devon Erickson, I-5 strangler Roger Kibbe, Tampa serial killer and rapist Bobby Joe Long, white supremacists and murderers James Fields and James Jackson, grocery patron murderer Gregory Bush, white male school bus shooter Kenneth Lilly, fiancé bludgeoner Patrick Frazee, multiple fatality hit-and-run driver Colton Treu, white male cop killers Wade Winn, Hollis Daniels, Joseph Ables, Frederick Hopkins, Anthony Aiello, Kevin Limbaugh, Dennis Tuttle and Christian McCall, white family annihilators Chris Watts, Brad Bishop and Dakota Theriot, Walmart Santa Elwyn Crocker whose missing children were found buried in his back yard, former attorney Richard Peck and white former policemen who became murderers Shannon Kepler, Roger Self, Michael Rosfeld, James Otterbine, Craig Peyer, Jason Van Dyke and Dan Hier who also is a child molester. While these names will fade from memory as news cycles move forward, repeatedly stating and restating a “white” racial association with these crimes would build an extremely negative racial stereotype in the public mind, which is why reporters traditionally do not say or write “white” while always stating “black” in as many crime reports as possible.
It should be noted that commendable positive actions by blacks are not covered except when they are reported without attaching race to the event. Note the examples of Priscilla Samey, a high school student accepted to seven Ivy League colleges, Matthew McKenzie, a black 14-year-old graduate of both high school and college on May 10, 2018, Walter Carr who was rewarded with a car after walking 20 miles to be on time for his first day of work, Normandie Cormier, 18, who graduated with $8.7 million in scholarship offers to 139 colleges across the country, Jonathan Smith who is credited with saving 30 people at the Las Vegas concert massacre before being shot in the shoulder, Tupac Mosley who despite being homeless became his school’s valedictorian while earning over $3 million in college scholarships, Memphis teen mom valedictorian Lamyrical Harris who earned over $1 million in scholarships from 25 colleges and Antoinette Tuff, a Georgia school secretary who verbally disarmed a 20-year old white male school shooter armed with an AK-47 resulting in no injuries. Their stories drew limited coverage and without mentioning their race. In an April 23, 2018 report about the Nashville Waffle House shooting where the white shooter was forcibly disarmed by black customer James Shaw Jr., many news outlets including CNN reported the name of the shooter and the four deceased victims but referred to the hero Shaw only as “a patron.” There also was no mention of race when ABC News reported in 2019 that former Oregon receiver and now football coach Keanon Lowe tackled a student shooter at Parkrose High School in Portland. The race of U.S. National Speed Skating head coach Anthony Barthell also was omitted from reporter comments during the 2018 Winter Olympics. In a 2/21/18 story under the heading “Elana Meyers Taylor, Lauren Gibbs wins bobsled silver, 0.07 seconds from gold” about the silver medal won by these women of color, there was no picture except one showing the entire sled and coaches in which Gibbs’ helmet was slightly open showing only her eyes. In television coverage of medals won that day, NBC news reported finishing places of all American competitors and showed facial pictures of all except Taylor and Gibbs.
When black billionaire chemical engineer and philanthropist Robert F. Smith promised to erase the student loans of all of Morehouse University’s 2019 graduates, his race was not mentioned in media reports of his pledge. Successful black Americans such as space scientist Katherine Johnson (portrayed in Hidden Figures), composer William Grant Still, NHL Allstar P. K. Subban, North Carolina and Kansas University Chancellor Dr. Bernadette Gray-Little, corporate CEOs Roger Ferguson of TIAA-CREF and Arnold Donald of Carnival Cruise Line, principal ballerina Misty Copeland, U.S. Deputy Marshall Bass Reeves, poets Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes, astrophysicist Hakeem Oluseyi, laser cataract surgery inventor Dr. Patricia Bath, NASA engineer and inventor Lonnie Johnson, musician Dr. Don Shirley (portrayed in The Green Book) “ping-pong professional George Braithwaite, Space Shuttle Pilot Astronaut Leland Melvin, royal wedding cellist Shekuh Kanneh-Mason, NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Wendell Scott, Ohio State U. Chancellor Dr. Michael Drake, Texans’ GM Rick Smith, inventor physicist and space scientist George Carruthers, FUBU and The Shark Group founder Daymond John, SVP at John Deere & Co. and CAO Marc Howze, Utah rancher William Grandstaff, Harvard Professor Dr. Henry Louis Gates and astronaut Mae Jemison simply are omitted from national media coverage unless associated with a tragedy or controversy. Prominent black Americans such as Shonda Rhimes, Tyra Banks, Condoleeza Rice, Tyler Perry, Leontyne Price, Eric Holder, Kobe Bryant and Oprah Winfrey often are mentioned in the media but without verbally associating skin color with their success. This leaves the brains of media consumers including police officers only having heard of “black” skin associated with drug addiction, welfare, public protests and street crime.
As long as news reports only verbalize race when portraying a black person in the profile of a pusher, protester, addict, truant or vagrant, they avoid exposing the brains of the public to the reality that the vast majority of black citizens are not on drugs or welfare or in prison and are successful, not only as athletes or entertainers, but also as proprietors, policemen, principals, pilots, professors, producers, printers, programmers, politicians, poets, doctors, dentists, designers and physicists in addition to being successful scientists, soldiers, salespeople, surgeons, sailors, stock brokers, social workers, students, statesmen, psychologists, farmers, firefighters, flight attendants, news anchors, attorneys, authors, artists, astronomers, administrators, astronauts, architects, reporters, ranchers, entrepreneurs, engineers, inventors, teachers, truck drivers, janitors, judges, jailers, bankers, bakers, builders, bailiffs, butchers, businessmen, broadcasters, mathematicians, managers, meteorologists, ranchers, carpenters, counselors, clergymen, chefs, composers, conductors and corporate CEOs, CAOs and CFOs.
Because newscasts do not link race to criminal behavior by whites, the policeman’s brain will not have heard of “white male” perpetrators committing mass murders in attacks on schools, churches, movie theatres, post offices, music festivals, video gaming tournaments, mosques, newspaper offices, synagogues, restaurants, malls, grocery stores, government office buildings, black townships, assassinations, serial killings, home invasions, lynchings, mob hits, bank robberies, honeymoon murders, home imprisonments, burglaries, kidnappings, cult sex offenses, airline hijackings, Ponzi schemes, church bombings, Olympic bombing, serial rapes, bankruptcy fraud, civil rights worker murders, chain saw murders, drug trafficking, carjacking murders, corporate embezzlements, welfare fraud, mass cult suicides, sex trafficking, fraternity hazing deaths, operating meth labs, child pornography, congressional baseball shootings and other tragic and deadly acts including unprovoked homicides committed by police officers.
Perpetually reinforced media images of blacks as criminals have resulted in numerous cases of both the public and the police seeing African-Americans doing work for which they are employed and misinterpreting their activity as criminal behavior. In addition to the autism therapist cited above, recent examples include a black female caseworker who was accused of kidnapping and taken off of a Delta Airlines flight for traveling with a young white girl whom she was escorting to meet the girl’s dad at a New York international airport, a very experienced black home health nurse who the police detained saying she had been reported as a “suspicious” individual, two black Philadelphia real estate developers who were arrested while awaiting a white business associate at Starbucks, a candidate campaigning for public office in Oregon, a 12-year old Ohio boy mowing lawns as a summer business, a 13-year old selling hot dogs, a black man babysitting two white children in Georgia, a Tennessee real estate investor inspecting a home, a young woman waiting in her car before a job interview, a southern California Edison Electricity contract worker attempting to provide service at a Walmart store, a black Comcast installer who parked his company truck in the driveway of a home before proceeding to search for underground Comcast lines when the police were called and arrived with guns drawn and arrested him for trying to break in to steal things, and a black home remodeler who was arrested in Oviedo, FL and jailed for 90 days for drug possession after police stopped him and mistook drywall powder in his truck for cocaine.
Other normal activities for which calls to the police resulted purely from media implanted racial bias include black citizens moving out of an AirBNB rental unit, a father cheering for his son at a soccer game, a Yale University student who fell asleep while studying in a dormitory, a Smith College student eating lunch, an 8-year old girl selling water bottles, two men shopping for a phone at T-Mobile, four teens verbally harassed by a white man while walking through a park, ten prospective college students who had a meal, paid and left an IHOP restaurant with receipts, a lady who presented a coupon at a CVS pharmacy, four black ladies who were playing golf, a Detroit man gardening in his neighborhood, three black people preparing food on a barbeque grill in a park and various black individuals swimming or lounging at their apartment complex pools. Some have begun to call for laws that provide punitive consequences for those who call the police simply because they have been conditioned to feel uncomfortable with the presence of a black person when there is no threat, no criminal infraction and no need for police presence. The demand for such measures stems from cases such as the man who called the police with an errant report of a black man waving and pointing a gun at shoppers in a Walmart store. Store video footage showed the man talking on his cell phone while carrying the toy air rifle but not pointing it at anyone. Even though there was no public endangerment or criminal act, the call resulted in the deaths of both the shopper who was shot and killed by police and a woman in the next aisle who fell while running from the sound of police gunfire and died of a heart attack in front of her two children. Despite the carnage, the caller was not detained.
Negative stereotyping of blacks contributes greatly to deaths among people from all segments of society who lack adequate access to basic necessities such as food, clothing, shelter, education and life saving medical assistance. Mainstream media sources consistently seek out and focus cameras on any black individual present whenever they are broadcasting stories about such topics as problems in education, welfare, drug usage, unemployment, gang violence, food handouts or health care assistance. As a result, funding for programs to address these concerns carries a negative connotation as they are labeled as “entitlements” that are portrayed as handouts sought by the same people that media reports constantly associate with criminal behavior, homelessness, addiction, school failure, poverty and violence. Necessary services, therefore, are not sufficiently supported to meet the needs of many millions of people from all ethnic, racial, social and economic groups. Preventable deaths then occur through lack of access to shelter, drug rehabilitation, nourishment, affordable transportation, job training, medical assistance and safe living spaces. In a recent example, a very ill black woman died after two ambulance employees refused to treat or transport her to a hospital because they believed she could not pay the bill. These tragic responses stem from media implanted bias against those who are stereotyped by being portrayed as undeserving beneficiaries of public resources.
Lifelong media conditioning as described herein eventually contributes to racially motivated hate crimes such as the murder of Richard Collins, a black ROTC officer who was visiting the University of Maryland when he was stabbed to death by a white male whom he had never met. Media prejudice also contributes to the epidemic of non-lethal hate crimes directed at people of color, such as the offensive word scrawled across the front gate of Lebron James’ home, the front door of a residence occupied by University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse students in November 2016, and the racial slurs yelled recently at a Boston Red Sox outfielder at Fenway Park. Media implanted racial bias is deeply embedded into the brains of not only police officers, but also of many white school teachers who commonly impart divisive racial opinions to their students regardless of whether such ideas are reflected in textbooks, published research, or were part of what they were taught while obtaining their degrees and licenses. For example, Lawrence, Kansas Jr. H. S. teacher Chris Cobb was suspended after telling black students they are inferior to whites and their skin color will always prevent them from earning as much money as whites. A substitute teacher in Springfield, MO also was removed from a school for telling students, “I was told to shoot you black boys. You black boys are nothing but trouble.”
Negative stereotyping of black men has established a basis for some whites to use this media implanted reputation to make false accusations against blacks in order to benefit themselves. Even the police sometimes use this stereotype for personal gain. Former Florida Police Chief Raimundo Atesiano and two police officers are facing prison time for the unethical practice of arresting anyone black to improve their crime stats. According to The Miami Herald, four officers told an investigator that they were ordered to file false charges against black detainees. In October 2018, white Georgia police officer Sherry Hall was sentenced to 15 years in prison for falsely claiming that she was shot by a “6-foot, 230-pound African-American man” in September 2016. Her squad car video was operating and an investigation revealed that no such person was present and all shots fired came from guns owned by Hall. Historically, many such charges have been made against black men who were accused of rape when, in many cases, no rape occurred. This happened when a white Tulsa woman accused a young black man of attempted assault which provided “just cause” for mobs of white men, deputized by Oklahoma state government, to invade the black suburb of Greenwood, massacre 200 black citizens, burn to the ground nearly 300 black owned residences and 150 businesses, and detain 6000 additional black citizens who remained homeless well into the winter of 1921. One of the most famous examples is the Scottsboro Boys who, in 1931, boarded a freight train to go find work. After a group of white men were thrown off of the train for fighting, they told police they had been assaulted by the black youths. Two white women riding the same train dressed in boys clothing were found and, despite having had sex with the white men, agreed to testify that they had been raped by the nine black youths. In another case, Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 after a white woman said she was offended by him flirting with her in her family’s grocery store. In 2017, this same woman confessed to lying about the encounter.
In 1989, the Central Park Five, a group of black and brown boys from 14 to 16 years old, were convicted of raping a white woman in the park although DNA evidence excluded them, there were no witnesses, no victim identification, and details in their forced confessions did not match. After all had served their sentences, a serial rapist and murderer confessed to the crime with details consistent with the event and a DNA match supported his statements. However, many refuse to acknowledge the wrongful convictions due to their implanted stereotypical belief that the five had criminal pasts anyway even though none had previously been arrested. On New Years Day 2019, Kristen Rimes claimed that a “black man in a hoodie” attacked her in a SC Walmart parking lot, but she was arrested for lying about the entire event after police found that she was not at Walmart when the alleged incident occurred. Another white female, Breana Harmon, was reported in 2017 to a Texas police department as missing after witnesses noticed the door to her vehicle open and personal items such as a phone and keys scattered on the ground. A few hours later, Harmon walked into a church wearing only a shirt, bra and underwear. She said she had been kidnapped by three black males wearing ski masks and was raped by two of them. However, there was no medical evidence that she had been raped and cuts on her clothes did not align with injuries on her body. She later confessed to cutting her own clothes and body before lying about having been raped to hide the fact that she had fought with her boyfriend.
Social causes such as Black Lives Matter become the undeserving objects of police enforcement activity as this movement often is stigmatized in news reports by associating it with violent behavior although closer investigation regularly reveals that any violent act was not encouraged, planned, instigated or supported by BLM, but was started by an individual protestor, a member of the security force or someone seeking to incite violence against BLM protesters. For example, Maryland white nationalist Christopher Hasson wrote “BLM protests or other left crap would be ideal to incite to violence.” Even when there was no BLM presence, reporters say such things as a black suspect “was seen at” an event where “someone” had a BLM sign, is “suspected of being a member of” the group, that the suspect or group’s behavior “was similar to” that seen at a BLM protest or gathering, or that the presence of BLM signs carried “the threat of violence” even when no violence occurred. Certain groups write media reports about tragic events that drew BLM protests, but their reports are worded to make it appear that the events were caused by BLM protesters. The BLM slogan, created in 2013 by three young women, is regularly demonized in the media although its actual history bears no comparison to centuries of very real criminal violence carried out by white organizations that are assigned much more respectable media labels such as “organized crime,” “alt-right” or even “goodfellas” and show a long history of unprovoked violent attacks such as the Klan or Neo-Nazis. If a group or cause is involved in an event, reporters should identify it but otherwise need to stop contributing to implanted racial bias by introducing its name into a story for comparison to actual or potential violence.
These are just a few of millions of examples of why both print and broadcast journalism reporters, executives and educators need to change the narrative and help curb the epidemic of unjustifiable deadly violence against black citizens. While the civil rights movement and related legislation resulted in more than a half century of improvements in educational achievement, employment opportunity, cultural contribution, political progress, economic participation and desegregation in military, athletic and other endeavors, the news media persists in perpetuating racial division by unnecessarily raising race as an issue in association with a wide variety of events, especially those involving black Americans. The pattern of lethal violence by police and others against black citizens will not change until media executives and reporters stop subjecting the public to constant and relentless demonizing, criminalizing, and negative stereotyping of blacks at every opportunity. Either always report the race of any person in a news story or leave race out as it is nearly always irrelevant. Only then will there be any chance for change in the pattern that is so prominent today of police killings of black citizens, the vast majority of whom are unarmed and no crime has been committed.
Dr. D. B. Taylor, Neuroscientist, Author, Professor, Therapist
Dr, Dale Taylor, PhD.
Dale B. Taylor, Ph.D., is a Board Certified Music Therapist, former Chair and current Secretary of the Wisconsin Board on Aging and Long Term Care, member of the AMTA Music & Memory Work Group, a recent Visiting Professor at Augsburg College and Alverno College, Professor Emeritus and former Chair of the Department of Allied Health Professions at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and founding Director of the Music Therapy Program, past Editor of the International Journal of Arts Medicine, Secretary-Treasurer and member of the Board of Directors of the International Arts Medicine Association, member of the International Relations Committee and former member of the Assembly of Delegates of the American Music Therapy Association and the National Association for Music Therapy, past Chair of the NAMT Certification-Registration and International Activities Committees and National Coordinator of Student Affairs, and past member of the Wisconsin Public Health Leadership Institute. He has also served as President and Vice-President of the Great Lakes Region of NAMT, chaired the founding meetings of the Wisconsin Chapter for Music Therapy, served on the boards of Music Education for the Handicapped and the International Association of Music for the Handicapped, and is a member of the Music Therapy Neurology Network.
Dr. Taylor’s presentations of his Biomedical Theory of Music Therapy have been made at conferences and academic institutions throughout the United States as well as in Canada, South Africa, Argentina, Colombia, the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, Estonia, Japan, Korea, and Australia. His papers on this and other topics appear in the Journal of Music Therapy, Music Therapy Perspectives, International Journal of Arts Medicine, and he has authored numerous chapters appearing in books edited by colleagues.
Dr. D. B. Taylor, Neuroscientist, Author, Professor, Therapist